Atlas F1 News Service, a Reuters report

Analysis: Friendly Words from Fierce Rivals

Thursday June 14th, 2001

By Alan Baldwin

Amicable resolutions, excellent relationships, gracious apologies. Formula One rivals Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve still have some distance to travel before any of those words are employed to describe their attitude towards one another.

But, after mutual accusations accompanied by suggestions of underhand behaviour and a legal injunction thrown in for good measure, Jaguar and McLaren found a use for them as peace broke out in one part of the paddock this week.

A statement issued as the teams kissed and made up over designer Adrian Newey stood out in a season marked by headlines about drivers being at each other's throats, suffering from "brain fade" or behaving in an unsporting manner.

A lively season that has also seen, in the space of just eight races, three separate spats involving at least the threat of legal action between teams over staff.

"Jaguar Racing and McLaren are pleased to announce an amicable resolution in respect of the future employment of Adrian Newey, who will remain at McLaren," the two teams said on Wednesday when a court hearing had been due to take place.

"I am sure that in the future our relationship will be an excellent one and that our rivalries will be confined to on-track competition," said McLaren boss Ron Dennis.

"I am glad that this matter has been concluded and it is gracious of Ron and Adrian to each offer an apology, which are fully accepted by Jaguar Racing," added Jaguar's Niki Lauda.

Protracted Battle

The truce may have disappointed those, particularly in Italy, hopeful of a protracted legal battle possibly distracting McLaren away from their main purpose of winning both world titles back from Ferrari. Only last week, Jaguar principal Bobby Rahal had told reporters that the battle could drag on for months and that his team, who claimed Newey had signed a binding contract to join them in 2002, was not about to back down.

But Formula One, a sport in which everyone is out to get an advantage over their rivals and where only the sharp-witted and thick-skinned survive, rarely follows the script. Transparency and benevolence are in short supply with any number of agendas lurking behind the scenes.

It was, after all, Dennis who welcomed team owner and entrepreneur Eddie Jordan to Formula One a decade ago with the words "welcome to the Piranha Club", and newcomer Rahal has had a rapid introduction to that.

With Newey saying he had changed his mind and wanted to stay at McLaren, who were determined to hang on to him, Jaguar knew they had a battle on their hands however much of the moral high ground they occupied after the undeniable coup of signing him. A court case was unlikely to benefit either side much.

"Faced with the reality that European law would not force take a job against his will, Jaguar bowed to the inevitable," observed Formula One writer Alan Henry in Thursday's Guardian newspaper.

The Times said the cost to McLaren of keeping Newey was "a grovelling apology and damages".

Machiavellian Politics

Rahal, a successful champion and team owner in the U.S. CART series who arrived in Formula One last year, made clear in Canada at the Grand Prix there last weekend that he took no pleasure in resorting to the lawyers. But he also suggested certain ways of behaving in Formula One needed to be overhauled with the arrival on the scene of major manufacturers such as Jaguar parent Ford.

"You don't have to have a situation of Machiavellian politics and what have you. It's just been allowed to happen and become acceptable," he said in Montreal.

Rahal felt that Formula One needed to be more transparent, even though many people go to great lengths to make it as exclusive and as conspiratorial as possible.

"You can be as competitive as hell, you can be in the most competitive situation in the world, and you can still do it in honest terms and full integrity," he said. "Without question as more and more automobile manufacturers become involved, the absolute necessity of transparency will be 100 percent.

"There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. Even among fierce competitors there are standards of behaviour."

Montoya was reminded of that latter comment at the weekend after a row with Villeneuve escalated into something more physical between the Colombian Williams driver and BAR's Canadian at the pre-race drivers' briefing. Both men played down their differences afterwards.

"You have got to respect everybody but if you race hard against them, then they will race hard against you," said Montoya. "But as long as there is respect both ways, then there is no problem."

Respect. But nobody was holding their breath for many more gracious apologies leading to excellent relationships.

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